Health Agents for America for America says it’s fighting to help protect members’ ability to meet individuals’ and employers’ major medical insurance needs.

But, for now, members of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based group are acting on the assumption that they need to diversify, to avoid going down with the individual major medical market.

Vantage Health Plan — a Baton Rouge-based, physician-owned health maintenance organization — has a booth this week at the HAFA annual meeting in New Orleans.

HAFA started the two-day meeting here Thursday.

Michael Bertaut, a health care economist at the Metaire, Louisiana-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, gave a presentation on why Louisiana Blue has lost about $200 million over three years in the individual major medical market.

Issuers and distributors of products like disability insurance, life insurance and voluntary benefits had booths in the exhibit area. Nick Hogan, president of Gahanna, Ohio-based Insurance Advisors, even gave a presentation on the proposition that this is still a good time to sell multilife long-term care insurance, or arrangements to sell individual long-term care insurance at the worksite.

When agents talked to each other about individual major medical coverage, they focused mainly on which individual health issuers would still be operating in which markets in 2017, and how high the issuers’ 2017 rate increases would be.

Patrick Clayton, who was at the meeting to market payroll services-based benefits and human resources administration services from Proliant, said that he thinks the overall number of prospects involved in insurance sales is about the same this year as it was before, but that the percentage who are involved in selling individual major medical insurance has dropped.

The underlying market for payroll services is growing rapidly, because of all of the new federal laws and regulations, including Affordable Care Act laws and regulations, affecting payroll services, Clayton said.

“People realize the complexities are just too much and that they need help,” Clayton said. 

HAFA brought in Dr. Jack Singer, a Dana Point, California-based sports psychologist, to give a talk on how to develop the mindset of a champion health agent.

Singer, who uses techniques drawn from positive psychology research, or research on people who are thriving, suggested that agents try strategies such as developing positive performance statements and repeating the performance statements to themselves, to crowd out negative, stress-producing thoughts.

In an interview, Singer said agents facing a difficult market need to respond by changing their outlook or changing the products they sell, rather than wallowing in gloom.

“Events don’t cause stress,” Singer said. “It’s how you process the event that causes stress.”

The goal should be to change toxic ways of thinking and talking to nutritious ways, Singer said. 

Many HAFA members are from Louisiana and neighboring states, and Singer said they generally look happier than an observer might expect. He said that might be partly due to the agents having a kind, friendly culture that helps them get through tough times gracefully.

Gerardo Cosme

Gerardo Cosme, a health insurance agent from Smyrna, Georgia, is an example of a HAFA member who is hoping he can overcome the turbulence and stick with the individual market.

Cosme followed the generic advice to drum up Affordable Care Act exchange plan leads by working with tax preparers.

Whatever is happening with the supply of individual health coverage, Cosme says the supply is growing in his area.

“There’s a lot of people who are extremely confused,” Cosme said. “They don’t know where to go.”

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